Whether you’re purchasing fruit in bulk at your local farmer’s market or you’re growing your own fresh fruits in your backyard, chances are you have a lot and not enough time to use it all up. This is where canning and preserving really come in handy. You can make hundreds of different recipes for just about any type of fruit or vegetable out there. Jams, jellies, preserves, pickles – there is really no limit to what you “can” do and which types of fruit you can use.
When canning, it’s very important to be safe and follow every step to ensure your jars get a strong seal. It’s that seal that keeps your fruit preserved for so long. Then, once you’ve canned some of your own home-grown summer fruits, you can give these as wonderful homemade gifts. Keep the jars on hand any time you need a quick something special for a friend or neighbor.
Tools You Will Need
- Mason Jars: You can use other canning jars, but Mason Jars are the most common for canning because they are great in high heat and can be reused. Make sure that you pick up jars with a threaded top, which you can usually find at most hardware stores and even many grocery stores these days. You’ll also need to make sure you have the lids and screwbands, which usually come with most packages of Mason Jars.
- Large Stock Pots: Part of the canning process is boiling the jars, so you’ll need a big pot that is large enough to provide a deep bath for the filled Mason Jars. You will also need additional pots just for cooking the fruit. It’s best to designate a specific pot just for this purpose, and enamel covered pots work well for this, too.
- Canning Rack: If you plan on doing a lot of canning, you may want to invest in a canning rack. This is a large wire tool that has handles and holds several jars at once, allowing you to easily lower many of the jars into a pot of boiling water. If you don’t have this, you can also use tongs or any other utensil that will keep your hands safely away from boiling water.
- Funnel: You will definitely want to use a funnel to get that super hot fruit into the jar. You do not want to risk accidentally spilling it on your hands, which can cause pretty severe burns. Be safe, use a funnel.
- Lid Magnet: Many canning kits will come with this tool. It’s basically a long plastic stick with a magnet attached at one end, that will allow you to pull the lids from the boiling water after you’ve sterilized them.
- Labels, Ribbons, etc: Lastly, you can use any decorative labels you want, ribbons and other items to personalize your new fruit preserves. Get creative, this is your chance to make something pretty that can be a truly wonderful gift.
- Pick your recipe. There are a lot of different recipes you can use to can and store your fruit, like these great recipes at Simply Canning. Most involve boiling your fruit with some sugar and pectin and stirring often. You can add lots of different types of fruit, so feel free to experiment with different combinations. Blackberry and lime, for example, go wonderfully together, or try adding different spices to your fruit, really there is no limit to the different types of recipes and combinations you can come up with.
- Once you’ve decided on your recipe, assemble everything together, make sure you follow the recipe. Canning is a time consuming process, so organization ahead of time will make a big difference when you start doing all the work.
- Safety check your jars and lids. Anything with a crack, nick or uneven rim needs to be thrown out. Make sure each jar seals completely and that all the lids have no scratches or dents. You’ll also need to wash all the jars, lids and bands in hot soapy water and dry thoroughly before you begin.
- Heat your jars in hot water until you are ready to use them. Fill your large pot about half-way with water, then place jars in the water, filling each jar with more water to keep them from floating. Bring this to a simmer over medium heat and keep hot. This is an important step to keep the jars from breaking when the hot fruit is added.
- Prepare your can bath. Fill another large pot about half-full of water and keep it covered and simmering while you fill your jars. If you are using a rack, this is when you want to put your rack into the water.
- Make your fruit recipe. Now that the jars are prepped, this is the time to follow your recipe for jam, jelly, preserves or any fruit you’re looking to can.
- Remove one jar at a time from the hot water bath, using tongs. Empty the water from inside the jar, and fill using your funnel. Use a rubber spatula to spread the fruit and release any trapped air that may have gathered in the jar before you move on to the next step.
- Use a clean, damp cloth to wipe any excess fruit from around the threads of the jar. Put the center lid on the jar and apply the band until it’s tight. Put the filled jar in your second pot of water, placing it in your canning rack, if you are using one. Make sure, as you place each jar in the hot water, that the water covers the jars by about two inches.
- Once all your jars are in the water bath, cover and bring to a rolling boil.
- Allow to boil, depending on your fruit recipe, anywhere from five to 20 minutes, increasing time if you’re in high altitude.
- When the boiling time is done, keep the jars in the pot, remove the lid and turn off the heat. Allow to cool for five minutes.
- Carefully remove jars and set on a safe space to cool. Cool over night, or at least 12 hours. Make sure that the bands should not be touched as the jars cool.
- Once cooling is complete, check your jars to make sure the seals are tight. The center should not flex up or down when touched. You can try lifting the lid gently, and if it doesn’t lift off, then you have a strong seal.
- Label and decorate your jars, they are ready to use! If your seal is tight, your canned fruit can last more than a year, depending on the acidity of the fruit you’re using.
Deborah Flomberg is a theater professional, freelance writer and Denver native. Her work can be found at Examiner.com.